top of page

Review: Ned (Theatre Peckham)

Review by Rosie Holmes

It’s something we all worry about, isn’t it? The future? One such worry being technical advancements taking our jobs; for example, there was uproar recently in my local town when more of the checkouts at the ‘big Tesco’ were replaced by self-checkouts, and I’ve recently seen chat GPT produced reviews that are very good (they certainly have a better grasp of grammar than I do!). Lola Shaw’s new play Ned looks at exactly this, the disenfranchisement of humans and the loss of purpose as AI threatens to take over, as well as themes of loneliness and nostalgia.

It’s a lot to cover, but Shaw’s fast-paced and witty writing ensures everything is covered in a succinct and effective manner. The piece begins with the audience meeting our protagonist, Violet, who instantly breaks the fourth wall. In fact, I suppose there is never really a fourth wall at all, as from the start Violet address the audience as she begins to tell her in story. It later transpires that she thinks she is perhaps part of a livestream to an audience, a result of her increasingly worsening mental health.

Violet works in social media, managing the accounts for a large supermarket company, something that has meant her teenage need for validation from social media has continued well into her adult years. Alone in her flat, she becomes obsessed with watching the likes on her posts creep up, “wired on approval,” so much so that eating, drinking, washing and sleeping become secondary requirements in her life. Violet is good at her job, headhunted after running a successful Martin Freeman / Sherlock fan account, but after “a little mischief on twitter” involving a frog shaped trifle, she is replaced by a chat bot, a machine she has insultingly been asked to standardise and check. As a result, Violet’s mental health worsens. Feeling disenfranchised, she destroys the laptop that has replaced her, a video of which ironically goes viral, garnering more likes than she has ever received.

Shaw successfully covers a multitude of themes within her short piece, many that clearly resonate with the audience, and certainly myself. The writing is strong, fast-paced and relatable. There are plenty of cleverly woven in pop culture references and memories from British childhoods that not only ensures Violet is a sympathetic character but that audience laughter is frequent. After losing her job, Violet retreats into an idealised vision of 1970s nostalgia, creating a time warp within her living space, complete with cheese and pineapple hedgehog, psychedelic rug and true vintage clothes, arriving from Vinted daily. Here Violet can escape from the very machines that have destroyed her mental health and rid her of a job. However, what Lola Shaw’s piece shows us is that retreating to the past, is to simply bury our heads in the sand, we must face the future head on and tackle our realities.

Shaw makes this statement by using the introduction of a figure from the past, which is an surprising but effective narrative tool. Ned Ludd, to whom the Luddites attributed the name of their movement, sits sewing in Violet’s living room, at first unsure of who he is, we soon realise that Ludd, a figure from the 18th century, is a figment of Violet’s imagination. Ned appears as a voice of reason throughout the show, interesting really when he is the manifestation of the anxieties of someone suffering with poor mental health. He provides a counterbalance to Violet’s almost skittish rambling, a calm and articulate presence in the chaos of Violet’s mind. Though Ned is the titular character, Violet is clearly our protagonist. Played superbly by Julia Pilkington, whose energy never falters, she is convincingly portrayed as a woman in crisis, while also managing the task of conveying a simultaneously frustrating yet empathetic character. Luke Hammond plays opposite her as Ned, in a quietly assured performance, oozing calm and strength opposite the fragility of Violet.

Set design is simple but the attention to detail should be applauded, it was like a game of 70’s bingo, spotting a multitude of items synonymous with the era; tinned fruits, a Gary Glitter LP (I know!) as well as classic 70s board games. The set perfectly encapsulates the world of nostalgia Lola Shaw writes of. The accompanying lighting design was also effective, used for a dramatic beginning that created palpable tension and drama as Violet destroyed the computer, but also some more subtle, clever touches such as brighter flashes of light upon a phone notification which emphasises the idea of our inability to escape our phones and technology.

Ned is an interesting, witty dark comedy that explores the danger of social media and technology as well as the ever-increasing presence of AI and what this could potentially mean for those in the creative industries. Shaw’s fast paced, conversational style of writing means this is a piece that resonates with all audience members and will leave many pondering the show’s main themes long after they leave the theatre. With such a short run at Theatre Peckham, I certainly hope this show has a future.


Ned played at Theatre Peckham, as part of Peckham Fringe from 30th-31st May, you can find out more about here- Ned - Theatre Peckham



bottom of page